Lawmakers on Capitol Hill convened today for the first time since one of their colleagues was critically injured in the deadly Tucson killing spree Saturday.
Speaker John Boehner opened the House this morning, delivering an emotional statement on the resolution honoring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and mourning the lives lost in Tucson.
"Our hearts are broken but our spirit is not," Boehner, R-Ohio, said as he choked through tears. "This is a time for the House to lock arms, in prayer for those fallen and wounded, and in resolve to carry on the dialogue of democracy.
"We may not yet have all the answers, but we already have the answer that matters most: that we are Americans, and we will make it through this. We will have the last word."
Boehner became emotional as he remembered victim Gabe Zimmerman, a member of Giffords' congressional staff whom Boehner called "a public servant of the highest caliber, one of our own."
"Even in our shock, we are composed and determined to fulfill our calling to represent our constituents. This is the great cause for which Gabe gave his life," Boehner said. "And, like us, Gabe swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. At the time of the attack, he was engaged in the most simple and direct of democratic rituals: listening to the people, listening to his neighbors."
Moments later, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered her own remarks on the House floor.
"In speaking as one House today, coming together … we offer our thoughts and support, our prayers for the health of our colleague, Gabby -- congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords -- and for all of the injured," Pelosi, D-Calif., said.
"We share the stories of the heroes of the tragedy, and mourn those who have perished. Let their actions and their members be a blessing to our country. We don't know why God saw this to be necessary, but let this be something that we cherish as an opportunity as we mourn the heartbreaking horror of it all.
Praise for Gabrielle Giffords
There was no evidence of heated political rhetoric today as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle praised Giffords and mourned the loss of the constituents who went to a grocery store to see her Saturday, but walked instead into a melee.
Instead, House leaders from both political parties today called on their colleagues to tone down the bitter political discourse and rise above the recent partisan bickering.
"This body has yet to fully register the magnitude of this tragedy," Boehner said. "We know that we gather here without distinction of party. The needs of this institution have always risen above partisanship. And what this institution needs right now is strength; holy and uplifting strength.
"The strength to grieve with the families of the fallen, to pray for the wounded, and to chart a way forward, no matter how painful and difficult it may be."
Said Pelosi: "May this resolution remind us of the urgent need to uphold our democratic values, to treat one another with courtesy and respect, and to act, as congresswoman Giffords has always done and always [will] do, in a manner that reflects the best of American leadership.
"American democracy is founded on our commitment to a contest of ideas, not violence. Political disagreement and dissent must never violate our nation's values, as expressed in the Constitution, of free expression, speech, and peaceful assembly."
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.,, said that in the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, now is the time for elected officials "to reflect on the heightened anger being projected in our public debate and the daily denigration of those with whom we disagree."
"It is appropriate that the wrenching, shocking, senseless violence of that day compel us all to reflect on our own responsibility to temper our words and respect those with whom we disagree, lest the failure to do so give incitement to the angriest and most unstable among us," Hoyer said.
"Let us speak for our neighbors in a new spirit of unity. Not a false or shallow unity, not a unity that wishes away our differences or our discords, but a unity founded on our reverence for our democracy's most precious, most fragile gift: its power to resolve without violence our weightiest questions.
There were a number of other events on the House schedule today related to the Giffords shooting.
Earlier this morning, shortly after 9 o'clock Pelosi signed the Book of Condolences and the Book of Well Wishes in the Cannon Rotunda. Pelosi took her time writing her messages and, although her pen appeared to repeatedly run out of ink, she wrote about a full page in each book.
The House Democratic leader will soon head to Andrews Air Force Base to catch a flight aboard Air Force One with President Obama to head to a memorial service in Tucson. Members of the Arizona congressional delegation are also expected to travel with the president on the cross-country flight.
Earlier today, the House Republican Conference met to receive a security briefing in the wake of Saturday's massacre. There were at least three briefers: House Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood, U.S Capitol Police Chief Phil Morse and Dan Strodel, the chief administrative officer of the House of Representatives. The House Democratic Caucus also will receive its own security briefing today.
At 12:30 p.m., members of Congress may begin signing members-only books of Condolences and Well Wishes in the Capitol Visitors Center.
At 1:00 p.m., members of Congress are invited to a bipartisan prayer service in the center auditorium. The service is closed to the media.
Boehner will attend the bipartisan prayer service in the Center. Before the prayer service begins, Boehner is expected, possibly along with other House leaders, to sign the condolence books in the center.
Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor worked with the House Democratic leadership to delay all other scheduled legislative business, including the GOP's efforts to repeal the health care overhaul law.